Episode #39: Understanding Triphasic Training with Cal Dietz

Cal Dietz has been the Head Strength and Conditioning coach for numerous sports at the University of Minnesota since 2000. During his tenure, Dietz has trained: a Hobey Baker Award winner, two Big Ten Athletes of the Year, athletes that have achieved 400 All-American honors, 29 Big Ten/WCHA championships teams and NCAA Team Champions, and 13 teams finish in the top four in the nation. He has consulted with Olympic and World Champions in various sports and professional athletes in the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, and Professional Boxing.


In this interview we discuss:

  • Producing Maximal Force in Minimal Time
  • Learning How to Absorb Force (the missing link)
  • How Cal Uses ‘Functional’ Exercises during warm ups
  • Understanding Eccentric, Isometric and Concentric work in the weight room
  • Using Sport Specific Movements
  • and much more!

Cal’s Triphasic System is building some strong, powerful, well conditioned athletes.  This program is definitely something for fighters, grapplers and coaches to look into and potentially start using in their workout programs.

Learn more about Triphasic Training here.


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Cal Dietz


COREY:         Hey guys, this is Corey Beasley with Fight Camp Conditioning. I’m on the phone here with Cal Dietz. Cal, how are you?

CAL:              Doing well Corey, just getting recovered from Christmas, you know.

COREY:         That time of year everybody’s kind of recovering I think. Cal, for everybody that’s listening, give everybody a little two minute blurb about who you are and what you’re doing.

CAL:              So I’ve been a strength coach at University Minnesota for a number of years now about 15. At one point I oversaw a number of teams, and when I say that, like up to 12. I’ve had some great assistance over the years to help me push our methods. I started triphasic training probably 15, 16 years ago, maybe even before I came here, I saw some influence in my own programs. But I authored that book “Triphasic Training” with a former intern of mine who finished his PhD at University of Minnesota here, Ben Peterson. He did an amazing job at laying it out and in writing up all my [incomprehensible] to my methods, and I couldn’t have done it better, there’s no way not even close. But the experience with triphasic with 12 different teams programming and using it successfully and then a part of what 33 Big 10 titles, 10 national championships and it’s just fortunate that I’ve used it from the sport of wrestling to distance athletes to hockey to golf and so forth. So I’ve seen the ins and outs, used it with every different sport and it just gave me all these programming principles.


The most important two sports honestly that verified and worked for me in regards to performance was track and field and swimming and diving or swimming I should say, because everything they do is measurable, and some things transpired and we got some great results with sports. So then really what I did was they just transferred it and applied it to other sports such as wrestling, for example, and worked at University of Minnesota and I won some national championships, the wrestling team, that when I got here and then I think I was asked to move on to another sport to really help them big revenue sports, so I did do that. But one of the things I wish I — wrestling’s always been close to my heart because I was a college wrestler and a football player. But those sports but I’ve been here 15 years now and I’ve narrowed my sports down just because you got so much on your plate you’re looking at with all the analytic devices from Omegawaves to catapults to a number of other sleep devices that we use to monitor athletes with, to really now I’m really starting to see other things, in fact we can talk about those later in the podcast. Some crazy results with around 50 my male athletes why I have resting heart rates and don’t do much conditioning by the end of the summer. I have 36 to 40 or 41, 42 resting heart rate. So we can get into that a little later, but without much conditioning taking place. So anyway, those are just the things I see. But we can chat more about that in a little bit.


COREY:         Yeah, sure, when talking about triphasic training, it’s something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. I know a lot of the contributors for fight camp are using your message and having incredible results. I think a lot of guys, when they walk in the weight room, they lift some weights and then they’re out the door and they tend to just gravitate towards things that they know, I don’t know if there’s a lot of times a lot of planning or grinding reason to what they’re doing. Can you give us like a 40,000 foot view of what triphasic is and how it’s different?

CAL:              Sure. Essentially, it’s probably nothing anybody hasn’t done before. But what I did was a number of years ago, I linked various methods such as Eccentric Training and Isometric Training and then Concentric Training and I sequence them in the right order and I try them every possible way, and I really got results. So basically it comes down to essentially a two week block of Eccentric training, a two week block of doing Isometric.

So on Eccentric part, let’s say you’re using bench press, you come down nice and slow, always move the bar up as fast as you possibly can, for two weeks using a method whether you bench three or two times a week or even once a week, whatever it may be. And then the next time after two weeks, you would switch over to — you can go three week blocks and two week blocks depends on where you’re at. I’ll talk a little bit more about that. But then you follow that eccentric block with a two week of isometric so the bench could come down, pause for a brief moment on the chest and explode up for about two weeks, and then you essentially go into the concentric where you bring the bar down, you reverse it extremely fast, and you go up and that could be a six to nine week program total, done in various blocks.

The reason you do it in blocks is because you get a greater response to stress. It’s a very high load of stress but it’s very specific stress. What we’re finding is, if you do a lot of the eccentric year round, you can’t sustain it, you get minimal results. But if you do a concentrated load of a particular stress and then reduce the other stressors, then you can adapt to very high lows over two to three week window, and that’s the true value of it. And essentially with the eccentric when you’re coming down slow and control, you’re essentially tearing your muscles apart, back in my head for the scientists, the [incomprehensible] the body comes in and rebuilds those. So it’s all this blood work that people are doing, they’ll find a triphasic during the eccentric phase causes a huge white blood cell response. Well, that’s actually good.


Now, normally, that’s not good. But when you’re training with a purpose and the exact specific stress you need, you’ll find that that happened. That’s just telling me that the immune system is cleaning out the old damaged tissue and it builds a thicker and stronger than it was before. So really the eccentric phase is a tissue remodeling. And when you have your tissue remodeled, you can develop a much, much stronger level of strength and speed because the tissue can handle more load now. And then the isometric now that you’ve got new tissue, the isometric phase is the fastest way I found to make that tissue stronger, and it’s always done in the weakest position. What I mean by that is you come down and you pause just above your chest and that’s the weakest position for that tissue. And those two, three weeks you actually get a lot stronger. And then the more reactive stuff, the more — and look, that stuff is not sports specific. When I say that I mean eccentric and isometric phase. This is a sport specific. What becomes sport specific is when you start moving the weights fast and doing plyometrics and fighting is when the sports specific transpire.


So let’s say you have an eight week plan for your fighting to peak and get ready for fight, or six week, you would do triphasing prior to that and then go right into your normal fight camp preparation. But you’ll find that you have new qualities during that time. And look, I get emails from around the world on a daily basis saying thank you for the methods that you brought out in this. Ultimately, here’s what we’ve seen. I don’t take any credit for that because there’s so many things that go into training as we know, I can’t take credit for anything. I’m glad to hear those stories. I actually enjoy reading them. But ultimately, triphasic training is just a tool in your toolbox. I would say younger fighters you can do two to three times a year is what I would recommend maybe the older fighters just once a year, because  as you get older, it’s tougher to recover and that’s the biggest thing that will transpire with triphasic training, you may only want to do it once a year.


COREY:         Right on. So as you’re going through the triphasic really focusing on blocks of eccentric training, isometric training and then concentric blocks of training to hit that tissue, that movement pattern in a variety different ways. Now that’s all a lot of the strength portion, I know that a lot of the weight room work that you guys do is only a portion of the training that you guys give. When we’re talking about workouts, what other aspects are you guys including in your workouts?

CAL:              Well, it starts from the warm up. I do a lot of neural flossing, I do very fine movements, I got some Functional Neurology in different types of methods and our warm ups, which is essentially some vision training too. I just released a football manual to be honest with you with a coach named Chris Cole [distortion] Chicago and what I saw from his high school athletes with some 36 inch verticals with hands on the hips. He used my triphasic program, and I was sitting there going, how did you get these results with high school kids and he essentially showed me an ankle rocker program that he had put together basically — because if triphasic makes your hips and knees really strong, well the last portion of that for running or jumping or moving is your ankles and these ankles get very — if they become dysfunctional which you might find a lot of people’s are because of the shoes that we wear, you’ll find that you actually may lose power, skill reactiveness from your hips and knee joint coming through your ankles. Now, when you can get in a better position with your ankles, you can punch faster, you can run harder, you can do everything, you can change direction, you can move, you can be more fluid, and he laid out a plan we released in the manuals. It’s just a raw nuts and bolts manual for high school football and some people have had some great success with it that we experimented with already. And then even in a number of sports, so in wrestling, you can take a shot. If you can’t get low enough, sometimes you’re hindered in your ankle mobility and it’s not just mobility because sometimes people can get mobile, but their ankle is not functioning at a high level still, and with his program that he put together, it’s pretty amazing, I’ll be honest with you. Even in hockey, because my main sport here is hockey’s, I found that the kids can actually have greater mobility actually get lower when they skate and that’s one of the problems with skating kids will skate too high. And it’s sometimes due to the lack ankle mobility to get in the right position. And you can only imagine the position that the fighters are into, and if you can keep your hips underneath when you get low, then you got a lot of power to take somebody down or finish a lot better.


COREY:         So you have to warm up. I mean, you’re really focusing on that ankle rocker program to develop the mobility and function at the ankle joint and then what other aspects are you guys working on doing those workouts?

CAL:              So I usually run every day [inaudible] whether it’s agility. I don’t do a lot of the foot ladder drills with many of my teams now, fighters, I might do more foot ladder drills for fighting specific stuff. In regards to footwork, it might make them better but I still think running is superior. But I usually do a lot of agility drills and short sprints because it still builds power and strength and then we’ll head right into the weight room after that and on my website, actual athlete I have literally all my warm ups and everything that I do. There’s movements in there you think you’re doing you don’t know why but they’re doing some various aspects of training the body in some more form or fashion. People ask me why I don’t do a lot of functional training. I just never really got a training response from it but my warm up probably has all the functional training stuff in it that you would need. I just don’t have to wait on them.

And now I progress my second book will be out — my second triphasic book. I’ve only got a book in the manual out now, but some of those methods that we do there now we’ve actually moved up from I would say normal weightlifting between 70% and 80% and 90% or 100% to even go into 120%. And that’s called Super maximal eccentric phase and isometric and maybe I can send you a link to a video but the super maximal lifting is essentially I get safety bar single leg squat. And you have the safety bars with the collar on it that you don’t have to hold necessarily, and then athlete will go 120% of their max. And when I say that, I have 180 pound hockey players using 585 on single leg safety bar squat, eccentric and isometric. I have 130 pound female hockey players that are using 335, single leg squat on their backs of that. And we’re using that in triphasic 2, which will be the main focus of the book. And we go down, we’ll get into the right position, we’re holding it or either falling into the right position very slowly. And I’ll be honest with you, what we saw after the isometric phase was a 10 to 12 B resting heart rate drop in the morning because of that. Now, I assume because you’re using 120%, your blood pressure goes up high for a brief period of moment. And what transpires is that your capillary growth is increased, your vascular system functions increase, and I honestly have around 50 guys that have resting heart rates between 36 and 41 by the end of summer, and we don’t really do a whole lot of conditioning at all until the very end of the summer. And we usually have those heart rates before we actually start conditioning.


So I guess my point is that with some of that heavy loads in the gym that we use and the right training, you can get some crazy adaptations if you know exactly and are very specific with the stress that you’re implementing. And then with that being said when you’re stronger you can become more reactive because that’s very important obviously for your punching and the timing and the sequence of everything when you fight because as we all know, there’s an art, there’s a skill and then even weak guys can throw nice and hard punch. That is really a skill and the art and which I think we’ll probably chat about a little bit later and [distortion] because — and that’s why I say triphasic probably needs it pre-done before your pre fight six to eight weeks out be finished with triphasic because what will transpire is in all these new qualities that you develop aren’t ready in the skill of punching, moving, fighting. My track athletes hit triphasic the same amount out because you need them to learn to develop to apply force within — the sense of you’re getting an new body and new strength qualities and you won’t transfer that over until you have time to practice the skills of everything you developed with a triphasic, so that you can be extremely positioned, and you’re faster, you’re stronger, you’re quicker.


COREY:         Right on. So we have your warm up, we have on prehab ankle prep, all that type of stuff. We’re moving into a lot of sprint, speed, agility, quickness work, then going into the weight room and using that triphasic program to kind of get those guys strong. So you’re working a lot of different aspects. I think these days there are a lot of the different things that are out there on the internet guys get so confused with; I want to do movement training or I want to do explosive plyometric work, I want to lift weights and it all becomes so confusing for all us. And I think having that system in place when they’re walking in the gym is important.

CAL:              Well, here’s the thing. I’ll be honest with you. I think one of the tough things with fighters that, the skills coach that we could bring out is that — and with any skills coach so when I say skills coach, I don’t just mean the jiu-jitsu guy or the boxing guy, I mean the sprint coach, the mid distance coach, all these coaches, the hockey coaches, you got to give them a window to get ready to perform because that’s what should do. Triphasic can actually even screw up some of those qualities because it’s pretty hard on the body. But what you find is you got to remember training is a process and that process is to have the fastest punch to put this punch the most powerful punch or strike or ability to finish a move when you’re done at fight time. Now 12 weeks out if you start triphasic you got to realize, hey, I might lose some of that quality but it’s not going to be gone for long, and when it comes back, it’s going to come back better. And that’s the process of all this. You know what I’m saying?

COREY:         Right.

CAL:              And that’s what these coaches — I think if you go to the skill coaches and say yeah, I may lose some punching power but coaches coach, it’s going to be better eight weeks from now becuase I’m going to back off my training for triphasic, I’m just going to do a normal weight room training. Now, here’s the unique thing about triphasic training. I have all these systems with all my other teams. For example, I probably have $150,000 in stress management stuff. And I’d say that these are just things that regulate stress and see how the body’s responding to it. When you go through triphasic you essentially build up a resistance to stress so that during let’s say, the fight camp stretch of six to eight weeks, whatever it may be for somebody, you can actually train even a little bit more or you’ll get better results because you’ve done hard training prior to that, that is very specific. So you raise your adaptation levels to handle training load. So my example is, I have a team and a device, it basically quantifies the loads. And they were during practice and the company said, you guys can’t sustain this load because we’re practicing extremely hard. Well, because of the summer spent doing triphasic and all these methods that I use, my kids never showed a mal-adaptation or got tired from the stress because I have more than one device that can measure all this. The company said people usually don’t do these high loads, you won’t be able to last. But my kids were able to make it and last through the first part of the season without any complications and they were always recovered. And the company’s like, wow, there’s something going on here. And I’m like, well, yeah, I just think it’s because they’ve gotten so resilient to stress over the course of time that when it comes time to stress them hard, the stress intensity is minimized. And look, your first time doing triphasic you get really great results. But what happens over time is that you become acclimated to the stress and you can essentially handle more and more load and not get a negative stress response; when I say that, I follow heart rate variability in the kids that have all these good readings even though we do many, many types of — they’re getting pounded in the practice but they’re able to handle it.

So the question is, is it stainable? I know my coaches are smart enough that they will taper in a year and we’ll be playing our best at the end of the year because of that. So it’s not sustainable for the entire year and you won’t play well at the end. But that’s your goal is to make sure you’re playing well at the end of the season. So that’s just a little insight of triphasic and how it works, and you just can’t always I would say, just assume that you do it once a year or twice a year, like you might have to actually add more load later because people are actually getting accustomed to it and the body becomes more resilient to stress. And that’s really your goal. Because if you can come more resilient to stress, can handle more training, and make sure — and then you have more margin for error at the end when you taper, which is the art of coaching. Now, when I say that if you find a guy taper as well as three weeks or two weeks, you may have another fighter in your camp that might taper well at five weeks. So you just have to kind of play that whole deal out and figure out what’s best for the individual. Because I’ll be honest with you, I got World Champions to all over the place, various athletes, and they all seem to taper a little different what they need to do. So again, that’s the art of coaching in my opinion.


COREY:         Right on. Yeah, I mean, that’s some pretty incredible stuff. Because I think a lot of these guys, they would use saying, going through those different phases of training and getting the adaptations that you are as far as resting heart rate, as far as being able to resist loads over time is pretty incredible because I think a lot of guys will just go through and they’ll do these nasty conditioning sessions and it ends up physically breaking them down. Guys are getting injured, they’re overtraining, their performance sucks, and there are all these other aspects that come in line with it. And if you’re able to do that using those high intensity loads and stuff like that, that’s a huge thing.

CAL:              Well, here’s one of the things I switched to be honest with you. It was for a number of years you keep mixing all these qualities and like I say, you said well, I do a number of things when I train, but I it’s like okay, I realized this but how can I quantify this because the question came up from a group of track coaches that used to get together in Indiana, from Gary Winkler to [incomprehensible] Illinois track coach [incomprehensible] the current head coach University of Texas track and field, Philan Dean who was a track coach here at University of Minnesota. They asked what if we’re doing stuff on the track that screws up the weight room and/or vice versa. And that question arose and I sat there and I’m going, that’s such a valid question. So I go and I just put the extreme in my head I said, what if I was trying to train for power lifting meet and the triathlon at the same time? Is that going to work? And I go, that’s not there’s nothing — you can’t do anything to make that work and work well, because you’re pulling the organism in too many different directions. And then when that thought came into my head, my next question was, what if I trained very specifically? And then also in these guys, his track notes, the track coaches, as opposed him and Illinois, they were like, what if you change your time? This is in 2000-2001. And I talked to Gary Winkle on the phone about this. And I’m sitting here going, wait a minute. So when I walk in on a given day, and if I do sprinting and I want to adapt to an energy system of short sprints, let’s say it’s a-lactic system under 10 seconds, everything I do that day is under 10 seconds.

So like for example, I may do a lifting day of five seconds or seven seconds or ten. So if I got a seven second lifting day, my agility drills are seven seconds with plenty of rest. Because I’m working for speed or maybe it’s a speed drill for seven seconds, then my lifting is probably heavy loads for seven seconds at a time. And then my conditioning will be seven seconds of max effort with minimal rest if I want to do it all in one day. And then let’s say I want to work lactate while I go 15 to 20 seconds sets of everything. So here’s what happens. So then the organism adapts to very specific stress. Because here’s what happens if you train for seven seconds everything, the blood, the heart, the liver, the kidneys, the brain, the nervous system, the muscle all learns to adapt to the seven second response. And not that it won’t work for the 10 second but what I’m saying is, if you do a 10 second set, or six, seven second set on something, and a 32nd set on something else, you’re mixing that adaptation process so the organism doesn’t know what to do, or it’s getting mixed results.


So the basic example I will use, and you’ll still get results, but if you do a heavy back squat and then go out for a long run or temple runs, you’re causing maladaptation if you really want to get to the deepest levels of the AMPK enzyme and the entour. And those are adaptations for strength and/or endurance. You actually turn both on and one shuts the other one off. If you’re sitting here you’re going, that’s not good. So in triphasic training 2 essentially, I show out many of methods of how you would train to get the most out of your training in regards to training with time. So all my advanced methods, I’ve been doing this for seven years now before even triphasic came out. I just didn’t put the most advanced methods in because if you read triphasic it’s a lot to chew on. I didn’t want to blow people out of the water –

COREY:         Yeah, overload them.

CAL:              Right, right. So I trained for time, and you get greater results and greater adaptations. So even training for 10 seconds is what I do most of the summer because here’s another issue with fighters too. I’ve seen it with Special Forces guys. I’ve seen it with older hockey players. When I say older I mean once they hit 27- 28, is cortisol. Now, with all the work that they do, the body releases cortisol, and cortisol is healthy and good for you, too much cortisol is not. And that’s when they’ll start to get that belly fat around them because we lean everywhere else. It’s a good indicator that this is high cortisol.

Now you can go through all the science stuff and say, okay, cortisol is good for — it’s a good indicator for — I truly believe it’s good indicator for working hard, right? That’s great, however, but I found — I said, I try to prevent this happening in my pro hockey players who make millions because the longer they can play and less cortisol they have, their tissues are going to be healthier. So that’s why I started doing sets under 10 seconds for most of my strength training. Do really hard, really heavy, whether it’s lightweight or heavyweight, it’s really hard, really heavy for 10 seconds, as fast and as hard as they can go. And then my eccentric stuff is I’ll do one leg for 10 seconds, I may do the other leg for 10 seconds and I’ll switch back to the original leg. I’ll do cluster training. But ultimately, if you don’t go over 10 seconds, you’re not using as much glycolysis which then follows — cortisol will eventually follow it, and then insulin levels go up and there’s a number of things that happen. But I’ve been able to keep my guys extremely lean. Even my older guys with lack of cortisol being exposed, especially in their stomach, and I take body fat measurements for that to keep a check over the course of the season with my college kids and then the summer with my pros. And these fighters, they have to understand when they do all these lactate threshold sets or training that long duration of 30 to 40 seconds at a time. What will happen is you produce too much cortisol and then your tissue gets beat up, because the cortisol is breaking tissue down globally and that’s when an injury can also occur. So it’s kind of a long term cumulative effect. But my guys will do extremely though your condition or they’ll do the short sets most of the summer, and I get my resting heart rates between 36 to 41 most of the summer.


COREY:         That’s interesting stuff man. Really, really cool.

CAL:              Yes, and we’ll talk about that more in triphasic training too and I’ll give plenty examples of how to implement that.


COREY:         So Cal, there’s a lot of great information, talking about work and lots of different aspects of strength and athleticism in your workouts, using that triphasic planning, monitoring recovery with your guys. It sounds like you got a lot of things on point. If guys are wanting to touch base with you and learn more about what you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to reach out?

CAL:              Oh, you drop me an email at [email protected].

COREY:         I think you mentioned a website a couple of times. What’s your website?

CAL:              Yeah, my one website that I use is xlathlete. It’s like extralargeathlete.com. I probably got 1000 pages of free stuff on there, to be honest with you. It’s just a vessel for me to sell my books and things like that some things that I do, but I’m not really good at keeping it up, I may add stuff, but not at the rate I’d like to. But ultimately, I’m a full time coach and that stuff takes a second seat to what I do. So I have a blog on there but I post things periodically, maybe once a month sometimes and ultimately, it’s a good resource. I got thousand of videos up in regards to exercises and things that I do and there’s tons of free stuff I’ll probably be releasing for energy system training that we do, I’ll probably be releasing because actually, I finished an operator manual. I have a number of Special Forces organizations that have contacted me or just military and police officers, I should say tactical, and I’m releasing the manual for that with free software system which would kind of go along the guidelines of energy system training that I’m talking about. And I’ll actually send that to you, you can post it on your blog or something. It’s a completely free software that we’re releasing with it, so anyway.

COREY:         Very cool. Well, good stuff. Well, Cal thanks again, man, you sounds like you got a lot of cool things. We’ll definitely have you on again to talk more. But thanks again for your time, man. I appreciate it.

CAL:              Of course Corey. Thanks for having me.